Winter 2019 Director's Corner

With the recent cold snap and near-record low temperatures, winter is fully upon us. As we hunker down for “spring” semester, we look back on the last several months of activities here at the WRC.


We host many events throughout the year, and the fall is no exception. The Center’s signature event, the Minnesota Water Resources Conference, attracted a record number of participants. The conference included keynote talks on soil health, the importance of relationships and community-building in water management, the water portfolio within the U.S. Geological Survey, and a perspective on the sacred nature of water for Native Americans. The conference saw the return of the Water Bar, and Suzanne Jiwani, a flood plain mapping engineer for the Minnesota DNR received the Dave Ford Award.

The conference season continued in November with the Climate Adaptation Conference. The day began with a panel sharing their perspectives on climate change as representatives of a Tribal community, a Federal science agency, and an environmentally-active group of high school students. During they luncheon keynote, journalist Mark Hertsgaard emphasized the dire impacts that these changes will bring. As he stated, “The house is on fire…and the lives of millions are at stake.” Following Mark’s talk, former Extension climatologist Mark Seeley presented the Minnesota Climate Adaptation Awards to Paul Moss, the Metropolitan Council, Room & Board, and HealthPartners. Throughout the day, more than 40 presenters shared their work to address a changing climate, including how Tribes are responding, challenges facing natural resources and infrastructure, and how an understanding of social and cultural factors can inform our decision-making.

Conferences like these are opportunities for researchers at the University to share the results of their work with a wide audience. To spotlight one such project, this issue of Minnegram includes an article by Water Resources Sciences graduate Anna Baker and Professor Jacques Finlay discussing their findings that sediment may not be the primary source of phosphorus in the Minnesota River Basin. To arrive at this conclusion, Baker, Finlay, and Professor Karen Gran and collaborators developed a mass balance for sediment-derived phosphorus (i.e. phosphorus that is delivered to the river channel via erosion of sediment, which forms only part of the particulate phosphorus load of the river). Building on previous studies, their measurements and calculations indicate that less than a quarter of the total phosphorus exiting the Le Sueur River at its mouth was attributable to erosion from farm fields, ditches, bluffs, streambanks, and ravines. These findings are important when determining how to best manage phosphorus in the river basin; eliminating all erosion would only reduce total phosphorus by 24 percent, indicating that other sources of phosphorus will need to be better understood and managed to fully address water quality challenges.

Lessons like these are shared through programs like NEMO, or Non-point Education for Municipal Officials. As Angie Hong describes in her story, a recent NEMO workshop in Forest Lake provided decision-makers with an opportunity to learn about a range of options to address water challenges in the area. Participants learned about a street sweeping program to reduce phosphorus in lakes and stormwater reuse at Forest Lake Area High School and Forest Hills Golf Club. These workshops provide opportunities for community leaders to learn from each other and start conversations that can lead to meaningful, long-term solutions.

As we turn our minds to (hopefully) warmer weather, we are also excited about new projects to advance stormwater research and ensure that communities and decision-makers can use the information that comes out of these projects. Supported by the Clean Water Funds, this work will examine how to best manage stormwater across the state. We look forward to how events, research, and partnerships like these can build on our water legacy.